It was early 2010 when Channel 4 came out with an explosive documentary which unveiled the cruelties Srilankan Army were doing to the Eelam people in Srilanka. Literally, millions of people were in exile in there own land. Thousands and more were killed just for the reason that they speak a specific language. Srilankan government forgot that, they were killing those people who built that country from nothing. This is unacceptable.
Next day morning, before I woke up from my sleep, Tang came back from the Tooth Relic Temple after his visit. He was an early bird. Next item in our agenda was to find out a way whether we can go to Dambulla and jump to Sigiriya on the same day. After talking to the hotel manager, he advised to stay in Dambulla for a night and then go to Sigiriya.
I managed to communicate with some of the local people there, who were standing around a road side tea shop. I had to play a dumb-charades game to make them understand that I am asking for the bus stand.
Though we were happy about the good start we got in SL, hunger started over riding the joy we had. I think, Kapu was not sure about a good place where we could have break fast. He took us around the Kandy town in search of a hotel. When we started seeing the same place many times, most of us got annoyed :). We asked him to go towards our next destination, and we will have some food on the way. Our next destination was “Nuwara Eliya”.
Drive from Negombo to Kandy is around two and a half hours. The road was too much of twists and turns from the start itself. Even in that early hours, we saw that there were heavily armed military officers patrolling in motor cycles. Also, they stopped another van which was going in front of us. Kapu told that, nothing to be scared of and it was a usual procedure there. The road around the airport has been declared as High Security Area, and no vehicle should stop in that area. Else, you can expect army or police coming to you! We Indians have a thought that Sri Lanka (SL) is a war struck country and it is much backward than India. “Misconception”. SL has better infrastructure, at least with their excellent roads and wonderful communication networks. As far as I traveled through SL, all the road, there was not even a small stretch of road which was out of condition and where ever you go, you will be in a 3.5G network.
We were driving on A1 highway which was from Negombo to Kandy. After a place called Kegalle, it will start steep climbs to the hill country. A good thing is, this climb is not as tiresome as our ooty or kodaikanal climbs. The places looked very similar to interior Kerala, like Thodupuzha, Kumali and all! Houses are also in similar style only. Even in away, it felt home!! As time passed, I fell asleep in the van.
When I woke up, we were almost near Kandy. Time was around 5.30am. I saw many hoardings of Lankan Cricket players through out the roads. No wonder most of them were of Muralitharan. He hails from Kandy. We drove past the Kandy Botanical Garden. I did not feel like I am in a hill station for the simple reason, I have seen such good roads only in metro cities in India. And none of Indian metros are on hills. Cleanliness is a big big plus for Kandy. Nearly no air pollution.
Kapu told, he will take us to a place where we can have a bird’s eye view of the town. We started climbing another hill and reached a place call “Arthur’s seat”. From there, we had a nice view of the Tooth Relic Temple and the Kandy Royal Palace as a back drop for the vast lake in front of us. We all got bites from shutter bug and started clicking here and there. We started noticing an interesting thing that, SL had more verities of cars. Especially from that of Toyota and Nissan. We saw a similar car like Nissan Micra in SL and its name there was Nissan March.
Towards east, we could see a huge statue of Lord Buddha, on top of another hill. I have seen that place in “Sancharam” TV show. On the western side, we could see an old building complex which we identified as the tooth relic temple. After spending around 30 minutes there, we went down to the temple. Tooth temple has a two level security checkup. One at the entrance of the compound and next one, just before entering the temple.
A great Kandyan King named Wimaladharmaraja Sooriya I was the one who constructed this temple. Many kings after him, until the last king of Kandy- Wickramaraja Singhe has made more and more beautifications to this temple. This temple an invaluable heritage asset for SriLankan population. And for Kandy, this is part of their life. It is said that, one tooth of Lord Buddha is kept here. This sacred tooth is exhibited once in five years or when the nation is facing big troubles. Every year, in July-August season, there will be an annual festival conducted where the replica of the container of tooth is taken for procession. That is said to be the beauty of Kandy. They exhibit their rich-unbeatable culture. You can see many photos and videos in network regarding this. The festival’s name is “Esala Perahera”.
Entry to this temple for Lankan natives are LKR 10 only. For foreigners, it is LKR 1000. Still there is a discount for those who come from SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation), 50%. So, for those who come from Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Afghanistan can get an entry ticket for LKR 500. Condition is, you have to prove your nationality by showing your passport.
We walked to the temple. First step of the temple is a semi-circular, white colored stone with flower design on it. This is called – The Moon Stone. I stepped in to the temple to see that my friends have already arranged for a guide to explain the history and what is what in the temple. A fairly old man who has pretty good command in English explained that, the temple’s real namd is Dalada Maligawa. He started with a short history about the kings of Kandy as well as the bomb blast in 1998 by Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE- A Srilankan extremist group which claims for a separate country out of the island, for Tamils. Please refer to wikipedia or other news sites for more details).
First he took us to the main shrine in the center courtyard which was painted in very strong red shades, many murals and patterns. It reminded my the murals of Sri.Padmanabha swamy temple in Thiruvananthapuram. This shrine has a ‘Dagoba’ which is the replica of the real relic Dagoba. Replica is exhibited every day thrice. Timings are 5:30am-7:30am, 9:30am-11:30am and 5:30pm-7:30pm. Main doors of the shrine were very similar to the one we see in shivite hindu temples. On the top, there will be a dragon face, and flower garland flowing out of its mouth to both sides. We saw a bowl full of water on the left side of the shrine. Chief priest who is staying in the same building will wash his body with this water before entering into the sanctum.
Just opposite to the shrine, there was a little higher platform. Once you climb on it, you can see a ‘chariot seat’ which will be tied to the back of an elephant. This one is used during the annual “Esala Perahera” festival. This chariot seat is made of silver. On the left side, there was another big Dagoba (Stupa) where people were offering flowers and poojas. We walked past to the first floor. Steps were made of wood.
Once we reached the first floor, on the right side we could see many people sitting there and praying. Armed security people were on guards. Should be something special. Guide explained. This is the main shrine which houses “The tooth”. The shrine was completely covered with gold. I also prayed for some selfish concerns and moved forward!
Turned right and could see a curtained shrine. This will be opened only thrice a day, same time as I told earlier. Also there will be the traditional Kandyan drums performance during that time. We climbed down the stairs to reach another side of the temple. We just walked across and again reached the first shrine. ‘Thissa’, our guide took us to the back of the shrine. There was a well lit hall where many people were sitting in meditation. There were a lot of Buddha statues in that hall. Out of those, a few on the dais were quite interesting. A big Buddha statue covered with pure gold, one 3-D Buddha which had some special kind of lighting. Where ver you stand, Buddha’s face will turn to you! Then a marble one, crystal…etc. One rule in this hall is not to show your back to the statues. This rule is mainly because many tourists post for photos along with Buddha as if both were school time friends! You can very well take photos of Buddha there!
We walked out of the temple to reach a small park. This park has a small, roofed platform which housed a big bell (like what KamalHasan will be ringing in Virumandi song) with a long log which is used as the hammer for the bell. This bell will be rung during the time of Esala Perahera. Dalada Maligawa is surrounded by Moats which were more than 10 meters deep, had deadly crocodiles in them. But now, only moat and water is there. No more crocodiles. All these were for the security of the tooth. We paid off the guide LKR 300 and started to the Dalada Maligawa Museum which is located behind the temple, above the meditation hall. Ticket cost LKR 10, and worth was even lesser! Museum had many detailed photographs of the 1998 bomb blast. It also housed some old ornaments, and war implements. Nothing great about it.
We exited to another museum called Royal Palace Museum. Seeing that museum, I was thinking if the kings in Kandy were so poor. It was just like my house in Trivandrum! It was too disappointing to see such a museum. They had a very old building almost 400 years old and a few artifacts, most of them were old build parts. With in 10 mins, we got out of the place.
From there, we went to the hindu temple complex, situated close to the tooth temple. There was a big stupa near the entrance. There were shrines of Hanuman, Katarakama (Subramanian – Kathirkaaman), Devi temples. After all there was an Afro-Lankan tusker. For taking a photo of that elephant, the “Elephant Driver” was asking LKR 100. We just used the Indian brain. We walked away and took a nice photograph with our powerful 12x Optical Zoom of the camera 🙂 We called up our driver who parked his vehicle somewhere away. We started planning the next item in the agenda.
Actual plan for Day1- Find the first bus to Colombo or Kandy and visit the Tooth Relic Temple.
What happened there – To surprise me, one of my friend was also in the same plane in which I came. We met each other as we were walking to the Immigration counter in the airport. As we refreshed our friendship, I learned that Shrinidhi Hande (http://enidhi.net) was with his friends in Sri Lanka for a weekend bash. They were also going to Kandy. Seemed like they had a more clear idea on what to do in next 48 hours. Shrinidhi invited me to his group if I wish. They had already booked a 9 seater traveler there. I was fine with that deal. And decided to join with them till first day afternoon.
A few facts about Negombo where I was at that moment. Negombo (Neer-kozhumbu in Tamil) is a beach side city located about 40 Kms north of the commercial capital – Colombo (Kozhumbu in Tamil). Negombo has a considerable amount of Tamil population and is one of the most busiest place due to it’s scenic beach resorts. Adding to it, Negombo houses the one and only international airport in the island- Bandaranaike International Airport, located in a place called Katunayake. Economy of this city is from the tourism and fisheries.
There were no much hazels in getting the visa stamped on an Indian Passport, only if you are not Thiru. Thol Thirumavalavan (a self appointed political hero who supports and delivers speech on LTTE). Only thing the visa giving officer asked me was, where will I stay during my 1 week tour in Sri Lanka? I said the fact that, I have not arranged anything before coming here, but I have enough money to survive here and find out a good place to stay. Response was- “Welcome to Lanka, have a nice stay”. Gidik Gidik…Stamped!
We walked out to the airport’s exit gate. On the way, we could see these duty free shops all over the first floor. They had almost everything LCD TVs, Laptops, Media players, Cameras, Cigars, Liquor, etc. We were in search of a place where we can have a face wash and get fresh. So, we went near the Customs clearance area and passed through the green channel as none of us had any check-in baggage. We found the wash room in the aisle of green channel. One by one we got in and got refreshed. We noticed that there were many officers who were looking at us for quite a while. As we didn’t wanted any untoward incident, we cleared off the spot very soon.
On the other side of the door, there was a very large lobby with two sections. First section had SriLanka Tourism Promotion Board’s counter, many money changers and an ATM Machine. Second section had all the travel companies and mobile service providers stalls. First I went to Thomas Cook (Forex) to change my Indian Rupees to Lankan Rupees. “WE DO NOT DEAL INDIAN MONEY” was the answer from each guy. Enough of a shock. Because, I did not had much money in my bank account as well, because it was 26th of the month! I searched out the ATM and drew a number -3000. I was not sure whether it is going to give me equivalent of INR 3000 or just LKR 3000. Later I checked and confirmed, account was deducted with equivalent of only LKR 3000. I walked to the tourism board counter and asked for giving me some idea about the places which I had in mind. He explained a few things and gave me a bunch of maps and brochures. These things became very useful for me later in my travel.
Shrinidhi called up the cab driver and spotted him. We walked to him and he escorted us to get out of the Airport. It was a Toyota 9 seater vehicle, which was arranged. The driver’s name was very complex one for even an Indian tongue. But we could only understand the first part- “Kapu” (No, it was not Kapugedara). There after we called him Kapu. Kapu ‘the sarathy’ started the journey to the hill country – “Kandy”.
An idea of what Kandy is… Kandy is the last capital of the ancient kingdom of SriLanka. It is a very well planned hill station. This town houses the Tooth Relic Temple which is dedicated to Sri Buddha. It’s Sinhalese name is Maha Nuwara. Town still holds many of the colonial buildings intact. For this, UNESCO has declared the city along with almost all buildings in the city as “World Heritage City” in year 1988. Kandy’s people are having their own cultural identity, the way they carry themselves and how they are shown to others. All together a great place.
At airport, it was an all new process for me as I have never traveled abroad before. I had already collected some information from my friend Sankar on what are the procedures there. I tried my level best, not to show that I don’t know something (as always). There was a long queue for those refugees going back to Lanka. So, we non-refugees were moved to an all new boarding counter. This helped to finish the boarding pass thing quickly. Filled up the embarkation slip and moved to emigration counter. There was quite a long queue because of the next few departing flights to Bangkok, Malaysia and Middle east. My flight was scheduled to depart at 12:30. I was in no hurry as it was only 10pm. Got the first seal on my passport there. At security check they did not allow me to take a bottle of water. The lady at the security post removed the bottle’s lid and asked me, to drink water now and dispose the bottle there itself, as they will not allow to take water inside. I was surprised to hear that. What is there in a bottle of drinking water!
Another officer asked me to open the bag. I kept my passport on a table and showed the content of my bag. There was a Tamil family coming behind me who were caught for taking some illegal medicines. They were took to some other room for further checking… oilah! I had seen this kind of scenes only in movies. I became more vigilant on my bag. I quickly packed it up and cleared the spot. Only after going a little far, I realized, my passport and boarding pass were missing. I ran back like a mad man in that lobby and I saw it on the table. I slowed down. Nicely picked it up and went back. An old man sitting near that table smiled at me! Oops! My first trip would have become my last trip as well!
An announcement came- SpiceJet to Colombo is delayed by 30 minutes… santhosham. I was thinking about that just a few moments ago and it happened. I took that time to recharge my mobile phone. At around 12:45am, we got the announcement to board the aircraft. As in a wedding feast, everyone were running towards the boarding gate. I too waked towards the gate. I expected a queue there, but could see a group of people raising their tickets and passport to the ground staffs as if they are in some fish market! Dear Indians… Please. There were a lot of foreigners there. I was thinking about what they will think about other Indians. When I looked in to the crowd, to my shock there were many foreigners in that crowd. Theory here is – Survival of the fittest. Guy at the front was shouting – “Thalli nillungappa… ellaarukkum seat undu”. How sweet na?! Ghrr!
Waited at the rear end of the crowd to get this mess over. Another old man was also standing near me. The same guy who was smiling at me in the passport event! He advised me to be careful with the passport. He suggested to put it in some plastic cover and carry it in my pant pocket. It looked a good idea. I followed him there itself. After all the mess, I walked into the aircraft through an aerobridge. Another first time experience.
This was the first time I was traveling in a Boeing (737) aircraft. All my previous travels were either in Airbus A320 or in ATR72-500. But the fact was I was not able to differentiate an Airbus and a Boeing. I found it only when I was looking through the safety manual. I just relaxed and was thinking about my plan in next two hours. My plan was to travel from Negombo (where the airport is) to Colombo in the first available bus and catch the next train from Colombo to Kandy. As an alternate plan, I thought I will see the possibility of a direct bus to Kandy rather than adding a 40KMs going to Colombo. Hoping everything to be fine. I waited for the flight to take off. In next few minutes a few guys came in and started heated arguments with the Crew members for their seat numbers. These trio are said to be booked ticket together, to sit together. And one of the seat number has got duplicated with another passenger. That passenger is not willing to change his seat and these trio were not ready to part apart. Arguments heated up and ground staff came in. They simply told that, if you want, sit in the seat we are allotting for you. Or else, get out of the plane. I think, with this, they were satisfied and sat down calmly! At last, SpiceJet SG001 Boeing 737 Jet aeroplane to Negombo (Katunayake) Bandaranaike International Airport from Chennai Anna International terminal took off from the ground.
In exactly 1hr 5mins, we landed in Negombo International Airport.
Surprises waiting for me at Negombo! What is that?
[Image courtesy: http://www.allamericanpatriots.com/files/images/jet-takeoff.jpg]
Thanks to Mr.Santhosh George Kulangara for his episode on Kandy Tooth Relic Temple, in SriLanka. I believe it was more than 8 years ago, I saw that episode and which haunted me too long to visit SriLanka. Since last 4 years, I has been trying and tired but the trip was not materialized. This time, it was better planning. The mantra was- “Do not plan”.
Starting of 2011, I wanted to take a break from my office works and go unplugged. Everything in my office was going much fine this time. I had no idea of what-how-when-how much-where etc. of this trip. As a first step, I sought permissions from home department (Mother and Wife). I know my Father will not oppose my idea of touring, he always encourages these things ;-). Got a green signal from the home department also!! Thanks Amma and Latha for that!! Next big thing was setting a vacation period without affecting my work- That too went well. Now skies are below my foot.
Started searching for a good ticket deal. All my searches ended up with our own Karuna family’s – Sun Network’s -”SpiceJet”. Ticket prices varied from 4000 INR to 5000 INR. By the time I booked my ticket, it was around 4800 INR. “No looking back”… I booked my round trip tickets for Chennai to Colombo on 26-Feb-2011 and back on 5-Mar-2011. Getting a clean sweep of one whole week.
I had certain defined intentions in this trip. They were:
1. Experience a travel, alone in an alien land, where nobody knows you-you know nobody.
2. Experience a new culture, new kind of people, new kind of food.
3. Visit those places where there is some new kind of history, which I have not seen yet.
4. And Buddhism was a good reason.
5. Get some Visa stamped on my passport. No matter if it is SriLanka or Nepal! Some Visa.
6. An international vacation without much damage to your bank account.
7. To say- “Hey, I also went on a vacation to a foreign country”.
8. To find some good place where I can take my better half to. (Ding!)
Till the date I was about to depart, no one in my office was aware of where I am going and what I am going to do. Most of them asked me to bring banana chips when I return. On the last day, I revealed to some of my friends, that I am going not to Trivandrum but to SriLanka.
The time between my ticket booking and journey, I utilized some time to get a good idea on where to go and what to see. But mostly, I didn’t find out where to stay and left it open for the journey’s fun. My itinerary was as follows:
Negombo → Kandy → Nuwara Eliya → Kandy → Dambulla → Sigiriya → Polonnaruwa → Anuradhapura → Colombo → Galle → Negombo
Too much..huh! But this was my initial itinerary.
As usual, I tried to get out of my office a little ahead of time. As usual, I was not able to do so. As usual, I was rushing to reach home and start to Airport. One good thing was, my brother was at home. Later knew that, he came early to see me off to SriLanka. Sweet bro.. na? We went to the Meenam restaurant opposite to the Officers’ Training Academy and left to Airport. I just made sure I have nothing but my Passport and Ticket. All were good. In a few minutes, my long time dream is coming true. Good reason for an excitement.